A writer friend of mine recently moved offices, and in doing so, had to downsize his book collection. He purged several dozen books about writing. Offering them to a group of us fellow writers, he wryly noted, “Take what you want, but remember, if reading books about writing was enough to make someone a successful writer, I would have been published long ago.”
Whether or not writing can be taught at all is an ongoing debate; whether or not one can learn it from books is too. I know many writers who absolutely swear by books on the topic that they feel helped them make a major leap forward in their writing, and just as many who’ve never read a single writing book and do amazing, wonderful work.
As to whether you should read about writing… well, that’s your own choice. There are certainly writing-focused books out there with great content, and I hope people will share their favorites in the comments. But there are plenty of coal-knobs out there with the diamonds, for sure.
So when you’re looking at how-to books on the writing craft, just keep two things in mind:
Most books about writing are written to sell books about writing. One of the books I picked up in my writer-friend’s book purge absolutely insisted that editors at publishing houses no longer edit, nor do agents really have much time to do so either, and only books that are pretty much 100% ready to publish will be successfully picked up for representation and sold. This certainly isn’t my experience; I have yet to hear from a fellow novelist whose publisher, large or small, didn’t give at least some creative input to the manuscript, and I do hear plenty of stories from those whose novels underwent major rewrites after they were bought by the publisher, with positive results.
And who were the writers of this book, whose premise was that editors at publishing houses no longer edit? Why, funny you should ask. They were freelance editors who had once worked for publishing houses, but now sold their editing services and led editing workshops for aspiring writers. Hmmmm. Mighty coincidence, that.
Now of course this principle has exceptions. [Read more…]